An ancient mystery in today's Middle East . . . Jack Stanton, an American businessman, makes a pilgrimage to war-torn Israel in hopes of rekindling his Christian faith. While traveling with his friend Punjeeh, an ER doctor from Jerusalem, Jack acquires an ancient scroll written by the Gnostics, a mystical group of early Christians--and his spiritual quest takes an unexpected turn. The scroll makes the startling claims that the Gnostics were the original followers of Jesus, and that they retained secret knowledge of Jesus that was not included in the Bible. With the help of the brilliant Chloe Eisenberg, a professor of philosophy and religion, Jack and Punjeeh navigate the dangerous terrain of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in an attempt to decipher the puzzle of the scroll and bring the Gnostics' revelations about Jesus to light. Threaded with the searing realities of today's Middle East, The Gnostic Mystery is packed with historical facts about the Christian religion. The thrilling mystery makes a compelling case that the origins of Christianity are far different than we believed . . . until now.
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The Gnostic Mystery
By Randy Davila
Hierophant PublishingCopyright © 2009 Randy Davila
All rights reserved.
The Philosophy and Religion Department was tucked deep inside the University of Jerusalem's West Complex. Jack and Punjeeh navigated the building's maze of intersecting hallways in search of Chloe's office, Jack's anticipation growing with every step. He was anxious to read the translation of the ancient scroll he acquired a day earlier, but he was also excited to see Chloe again.
Jack had been trying to get more information about her from Punjeeh all morning, but this was one area in which his friend wasn't very talkative.
"She's a nice lady," Punjeeh said. "She grew up in Greece and moved here to take a professorship at the college two years ago. I understand she is very popular with the students, as Esther says her classes fill quite quickly ... there's not much more to tell, really."
"So what's the story with this Ben fellow?" Jack pressed.
Punjeeh looked momentarily puzzled and then chuckled aloud. "Ben? Oh ... well, I think you'll have to ask her about that one," he said coyly.
They arrived at Chloe's office and found her seated behind a mahogany desk in a brown leather high-back office chair. The office itself looked like a well-kept mini-library: Bookshelves climbed all four walls, each stuffed with texts of varying shapes and sizes. Chloe was talking with a distinguished-looking, balding gentleman in his mid-fifties. Jack immediately noticed the scroll, which was unrolled in the center of her desk.
"Knock, knock," Punjeeh said as they peered through the open doorway.
"Please come in." Chloe stood and motioned them forward. The older gentlemen also stood to face them. Once erect, his tall, thin frame became more pronounced, towering over the rest of the group.
"This is Professor King," Chloe said, "our department chairperson and resident expert on Christianity. He's an ordained minister in the Anglican Church and has a PhD in early church history."
Jack and Punjeeh introduced themselves and exchanged handshakes with Professor King.
"Quite a find you have here, gentlemen," Professor King said in a deep voice that betrayed a hint of an Oxford accent.
"Don't look at me," Punjeeh said. "This one belongs to Jack."
"Thank you," Jack replied enthusiastically. "Everyone gets lucky once in a while." He looked over at Chloe. "So what exactly have we got here, anyway?"
"The answer is complicated," she acknowledged. "Please, sit down."
Professor King resumed his seat while Jack and Punjeeh took the chairs next to him. They leaned over the desk and examined the scroll. Now that they were closer, Jack noticed a plain piece of white paper with a handwritten paragraph in English on the desk next to the scroll, which he assumed was the translation.
He could also see Chloe better. She looked even more attractive than in their first meeting the night before. She wore a black suit-skirt that came to her knees, a red blouse the color of her lipstick, and her jet black hair was pulled back in a bun, which contrasted well with her amber-green eyes. Her wire-frame glasses offered the only hint of her profession, and they sat neatly on her cute pug nose.
"I think the easiest thing to do is have you read my translation," Chloe began, waking Jack from his daydream, "and then hopefully Professor King and I can help you make some sense of it."
Chloe turned the piece of paper around and slid it across the desk. Jack could feel his heart beating faster as he read the following:
Oh Valentinus and Basilides, if only you were here to see what has come to pass.
What we started, they have overtaken.
The emperor claims a great vision of our Risen Lord and has become one of them. Oh what deception! If they only knew of Mithras, Dionysus, Osiris, and the many, many more.
His gathering at Nicea has decreed their ignorance. The Emperor's mother has descended upon Jerusalem and spread falsehoods. The unification of church and state is complete.
In Rome, our brothers and sisters in Gnosis are being murdered. Our writings are called heretical and thrown into the fire.
Forgive them Lord, for they know not what they do.
But what shall become of the Secret Mysteries? Shall they die with me? They must not. I will record the First Secret Mystery of Jesus and hide it within the caves of our forefathers. Let God keep it safe from destruction, and ordain whoever finds it, so that the truth and the mystery shall someday be reborn.
Chloe and Professor King sat silently as Jack and Punjeeh read and reread the translation. Finally, Punjeeh spoke. "This is fascinating. When do you think it was written?"
"If it's authentic," said Professor King, raising a finger, "and at first glance I have no reason to believe that it's not, I would place it sometime in the mid-fourth century. Definitely after 325 AD, when the Council of Nicaea took place."
Again Jack found himself on unfamiliar ground. In his other life back in the United States, he was the expert in most situations. At work, people came to him with questions, but here he was the one asking all of them. "The council of what?"
"Nicaea," answered Professor King. "It was a meeting of Literalist Christian bishops and a precursor to the formation of the Roman Catholic Church. This document appears to be written by a Gnostic Christian who was dissatisfied with the union of the Catholic Church and the Roman Empire."
Jack's bewildered expression remained. Chloe sensed his distress and offered her assistance. "Professor, if I may?"
"By all means, Chloe, please."
"Let's look at it line by line," she began. "Some items are easier to discern than others. First, by the tone and organization, it appears that this is a letter."
Jack nodded in agreement. "To these Valentine and Basil persons."
"Right," said Chloe. "Valentinus and Basilides were very influential Gnostic teachers who lived during the second century, around 120-180 AD."
Perplexed, Punjeeh's eyes widened. "But Professor King just said this was written in the fourth century, or more than 200 years later."
"Very astute, Dr. Punjeeh," interrupted Professor King, "very astute."
Chloe smiled. "That's why I said it appears to be a letter, but in reality, I think it's more of a lamenting. The author was obviously a Gnostic Christian as evidenced by the addressing of Valentinus and Basilides in the beginning and the later line that states our brothers and sisters in Gnosis. But I don't think this is a letter he expected anyone to read anytime soon ... so in a way, I think he was writing his epitaph."
"And in hindsight, quite possibly the epitaph of the Gnostic movement as a whole," added Professor King. "Because within a few years of this letter, the Catholic Church had consolidated its power, tortured and killed its Gnostic opponents, and destroyed virtually all the Gnostics' writings. Quite simply, the Catholic hierarchy did everything they could to permanently erase Gnostic ideology from the historical record."CHAPTER 2
2 Days Earlier - West Bank, Israeli-occupied Palestinian territory
"Are you scared?" Caleb asked.
"Of course not," Youseff scoffed as he cautiously peered down the small hole into the cavern below.
That was lie number one.
"You look scared," Caleb continued, prodding him on.
"Don't be ridiculous. What's there to be afraid of?" Youseff shot back. "It's just a cave. I've been in plenty of caves."
That was lie number two.
Youseff Muhammad and Caleb Hamad, both thirteen, were about to set the ball in motion to reveal one of the best-kept secrets of all time — but that was the furthest thing from their minds. They were simply treasure-hunting. And although finding buried treasure is a universal dream of adolescent boys, it was especially true in the small Palestinian villages around the Dead Sea, where archaeological digs were a regular occurrence and the prospects of finding something of value did not seem so remote. In a war-torn country where the poorest workers survive on less than three dollars per day, finding the right artifact could be the ticket to a new and better life.
"Throw me the rope," Youseff commanded, trying to sound confident, if only for his own benefit. Tall and stocky for his age, he regularly talked tough to impress his way upon the other boys in their village. But this type of behavior never worked on his best friend, Caleb, who, although smaller in stature, knew Youseff for what he was, a pussycat.
Caleb smiled as he pitched him the coil of frayed Manila hemp they had borrowed from a neighbor. Youseff looped it around the base of a tree, pulled the knot tight, and dropped the rest down the hole. It landed with a thud, about ten feet down, he guessed.
Youseff looked up at the blazing midday sun. It had to be almost one hundred degrees by now. Their dark eyes, dark hair, and olive skin were accustomed to the desert climate. The boys had hiked almost five miles through the Judean Desert to reach these limestone hills near the northwest corner of the Dead Sea. Caleb had discovered the crevice a week earlier while hunting with his father, who forbade him from exploring it. "You fall down there and we'll never be able to get you out," his father warned. Of course, to Caleb the warning only made the journey all the more necessary. He had, however, convinced Youseff to go first, just in case his father was right.
Youseff swung his legs down into the opening and slowly lowered himself into the dark passage. As he did, the damp, stale air filled his nostrils. "Disgusting," he said to himself as he reached the bottom and looked around.
The cave was larger than it had seemed from above. He could see a few feet in every direction, thanks mainly to the slant of high-noon sun that shone brightly through the hole in the ceiling. He took a box of matches and a candle from his pocket. The sound of the striking match echoed throughout the cavern and provided a point of illumination that grew larger once he lit the wick. After his eyes had a moment to adjust, Youseff could see that the cavern had a roughly rectangular shape about the size of the classroom that he and Caleb attended at the village school.
Youseff glanced quickly around and saw nothing out of the ordinary, or what he imagined would be ordinary for the inside of a cave, since he had never been in one. Except for a few small rocks strewn across the dusty floor, it appeared empty.
But the north end of the cave was just beyond the candle's illumination. Looking into the darkness gave him an eerie feeling. Slowly, Youseff started walking toward the shadowed section. As he did he could roughly perceive the silhouette of a mysterious object along the base of the far wall.
"What can you see?" Caleb shouted from above.
The sound of his friend's voice startled him. Youseff froze in his tracks. "Nothing yet, just dirt and rocks," he replied after regaining enough composure to answer. "But there's something over here against the wall. I can't make it out yet."
"What is it?" Caleb asked impatiently.
"Hold on a second, I'm getting there."
Youseff resumed his careful pace toward the north wall, squinting his eyes in an attempt to visualize the obscured object at its base. The further he got from the hole in the roof the more he had to depend on the candle for light. It's probably just a pile of rocks, he told himself. When he got within a couple feet of the object, he knelt and held the candle out in front of him.
Suddenly, he realized what it was.CHAPTER 3
"We've reached our cruising altitude of thirty-five thousand feet. I'm going to turn off the Fasten Seatbelt sign. Feel free to stretch your legs and move about the cabin."
Jack Stanton peered out the window of his first-class seat on Israeli Air's nonstop flight from Washington's Reagan airport to Jerusalem. Nothing but blue water as far as the eye could see, and not a cloud in the sky. But a long way down, he thought. He checked the time on his watch. ONLY ten more hours to go.
Patience had never been one of Jack's notable qualities, but in at least one way that had served him well.
He had been impatient as a young entrepreneur, refusing to go the traditional route of coming in at the bottom and working his way up the corporate ladder. After graduating college, he spent six months as an analyst for a D.C.-based mutual funds company. But when things didn't move fast enough for him, he broke out on his own and started an asset management firm that focused exclusively on technology stocks. And although convincing investors to take a chance on him was difficult at first, his accurate prediction of the impending tech-stock implosion made those who had gambled on him some very sizeable profits. After that, new clients had beaten down his door, and things had been nonstop ever since. What had started as a small investment house ten years ago now employed more than one hundred people, had $500 million under management, and offered assistance with mergers and acquisitions, venture capital, and commodities trading.
But now, at age thirty-three, after accomplishing most of the financial goals he had set out for himself, he had a restlessness inside him, a feeling of lack. It was if somewhere in the back of his mind loomed the uncomfortable thought: Is this all there is?
"Would you like a cocktail, sir?"
Jack's internal questioning was interrupted by an external one.
"No, thanks," he replied to the tall, voluptuous Israeli Air flight attendant. "How 'bout just a Diet Coke?"
"Coming right up," she said with a smile.
Jack had learned long ago that alcohol clouded his mind and was bad for business. He credited non-drinking as one of the reasons for his financial success. Women, on the other hand, had been an entirely different story.
He admired the flight attendant's long, dark hair and hourglass figure as she walked to the front of the cabin. She returned momentarily with the drink. "Here you are."
"Thanks," he said, flashing his pearly whites and revealing the small dimple on his left cheek. This was the trademark smile that had won over clients and female companions alike. He then noticed the Star of David pendant around her neck.
"This is my first time to the Holy Land," he said. "I'm really looking forward to it, but I'm a little nervous, too, with the violence and all."
"I'm sure you'll be fine, sir," she answered politely, but with a monotone voice that let him know she wasn't interested in continuing the conversation.
Strike out, he thought.
Then it occurred to him: Would she call Israel "the Holy Land" too? Or was that just the Christian term for it?
Jack was certainly no theologian. Catholic by birth, or a "cradle Catholic" as the term implies, he was raised by a mother who labored tirelessly at two jobs to send him and his younger sister to parochial school. Even so, he never paid as much attention to the nuances of the church as he now wished he had. Of course he understood the big picture: Jesus was the Son of God who died for our sins, rose from the dead, and is coming back later, but Jack certainly didn't have the biblical knowledge that he saw in other people. In fact, and he was careful not to advertise this, he hadn't even read the vast majority of the Christian holy book.
But that didn't mean that Jack wasn't interested in religion and philosophy. Quite the contrary, he had spent many a day grappling with such questions as "Why are we here?" and "What's the meaning of all this?" It was this philosophical side, and the unexpected feeling of lack that accompanied his material achievements, that had led him to plan this two- week trip to Israel. He hoped to rejuvenate his interest in the religion of his birth, and he hypothesized that by visiting the historic places where all the amazing events in the Bible had occurred, he could then feel a deeper, stronger connection to his faith.
And besides that, he really needed a vacation. His employees had been begging him for months to take some time off. Finally Jill, his administrative assistant, began telling all his clients in January that he would be on vacation for two weeks in August. It was June before he found out.
"Chocolate ice cream is the best!" Jack heard a young boy say insistently from across the aisle and a row behind.
"No! Vanilla!" replied an even younger-sounding girl.
Jack cocked his head around to get a look at the pair. The boy was around seven and the girl probably five or six, sitting on opposite sides of a young woman who was doing her best to ignore the conversation and continue to read her magazine.
"Mommy, tell Brian vanilla is best," the little girl whined.
The boy responded by jamming his thumbs in his ears, sticking out his tongue, and fluttering his fingers back and forth.
"That's enough," the young woman said in the motherly tone of voice that is identical in all languages, "Mia, you too."
Excerpted from The Gnostic Mystery by Randy Davila. Copyright © 2009 Randy Davila. Excerpted by permission of Hierophant Publishing.
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